The 2014 FIFA World Cup got off to a rocking start in Brazil this month and much like the rest of the globe, fans across Pakistan have been overcome with World Cup fever. From Lyari to Quetta to Chaman to Sialkot, where the famous ‘Brazuca’ ball was manufactured, Pakistan’s sizeable football-following population has come to a standstill as the World’s most-watching sporting event continues.
But one question that has crossed the mind of every football-loving fan in the country at least once is, ‘What would it take for Pakistan to compete in a football World Cup?’
Not this World Cup obviously, and maybe not even the next… But what would it take to see the green and white flag waving alongside the rest of them at the World’s biggest football extravaganza? Imagine Pakistani strikers trying to get a ball past Spain’s Iker Casillas or Germany’s Manuel Neuer… Oh, what a magnificent sight that would be…
Well, according to the latest reports, Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Chief Faisal Saleh Hayat, has outlined ‘Vision 2022’, a set-milestone for Pakistan to qualify for 2022 FIFA World Cup scheduled to be held in Qatar. The PFF governs all football clubs in Pakistan and is a member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and FIFA.
But Pakistani striker Muhammad Essa Khan has reportedly termed the objective ‘unrealistic’ according to footballpakistan.com. Pakistan is currently ranked 164th in the World, sandwiched between Hong Kong and Nepal in the official FIFA rankings.
In Pakistan, cricket takes precedence over all other sports including our national sport, hockey. Unfortunately, football has never been considered in the same vein and thus has suffered greatly from a lack of exposure. There has also not been enough investment in improving infrastructure or establishing proper training institutions to nurture budding talent.
Furthermore, Pakistan has failed to win a single South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship since its inception in 1997, and we failed to qualify for the Asia Cup.
So, needless to say qualifying for the World Cup won’t be easy… But that’s not to say it can’t be done. Listed below are a few suggestions that though won’t guarantee us a spot in the next World Cup competition would at least help move things forward:
Export local talent to foreign leagues
Most of the top leagues in the world import talent from across the globe. These leagues are well-managed and offer invaluable experience to budding football talent. Pakistani players could be selected via talent hunts, groomed and trained and eventually marketed to international leagues. Europe could be a stretch but a move to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Far Eastern nations like Hong Kong and Malaysia would serve as great stepping stones. The knowledge and experience gained there would be instrumental in providing the Pakistani side with some much-needed quality.
There has been small progress on this front as one PPL player 21-year-old Mohammad Adil, has accepted a one-year contract with Kyrgyzstan champions FC Dordoi according to The National. Hopefully he can inspire more players to up-their-game and be selected by foreign leagues.
Recruit Pakistan-based talent playing in foreign leagues for the national side
There are actually players of Pakistani origin living in Europe that are currently competing in domestic leagues. One of the biggest names is British-Pakistani center-back Zesh Rehman. Would you believe he has actually played in the Barclay’s Premier League? Rehman started his career at Fulham, and has since played with clubs like Queens Park Rangers (QPR). More recently he has played with clubs in Hong Kong and Malaysia and is considered one of Pakistan’s best foreign talents. Others include Adil Nabi at West Bromwich Albion and Etzaz Hussain of Molde FC in Tippeligaen, Norway.
Invest-in and revamp the PPL using national and regional sponsors
Why do football fans all over the world watch European domestic leagues like La Liga, the Barclay’s Premier League and the Bundesliga. These institutions are built from ground-up with proper infrastructure, management, governing bodies, rules and perhaps most importantly, lucrative sponsors that lessen the financial burden of running a football league.
Pakistan needs to follow in the footsteps of already-established leagues which foster competition and increase exposure of domestic league football to the masses. India’s I-League for example, has developed into a popular football league and can also serve as a great example for the PPL to follow.
Successfully compete in regional tournaments and qualify
Pakistan’s national football team needs to successfully compete in the SAFF and AFC tournaments and qualify for the Asia Cup. One has to take baby steps as there is no shortcut to success. The World Cup is a far stretch when Pakistan can’t even successfully compete on a regional level.
Pakistan last came third in the SAFF Championship in 1997, and failed to qualify for the knockout rounds in the tournament last year. India on the other hand, are six-time regional champions.
Once success in regional tournaments has been achieved we will be in a lot better a position to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. And while Muhammed Essa Khan may be correct in stating that it’ll take a lot longer than 2022 for us to reach that stage… the hard work needs to start now!!